Sunday, 28 January 2018

Cumbrian 37's

37401 and 37402 both looking work-stained in Large Logo Blue at Barrow-in-Furness. 37401 prepares for departure with the 11:40 to Carlisle while 37402 has arrived with the 10:04 from Preston and will shortly depart for the carriage sidings. 22/01/2018

37401 pauses at Whitehaven for the token exchange.
With the news that full class 37 operation may soon be giving way to class 68's on the Cumbrian Coast I found myself on the Sunday night Caledonian Sleeper on 21st January heading up to Carlisle. The sleep wasn't too bad but there was still no getting away from the fact that an 04:30 wake-up call is early! At 04:45 the London - Glasgow/Edinburgh overnight snaked out of Carlisle into the night and all that remained was to wait for the class 37 to arrive for the 05:15 Northern service to Preston via Barrow-in-Furness.

37402 'Stephen Middlemore 23.12.1954 - 8.6.2913' stands beneath the roof at Preston awaiting it's departure with the 10:04 Preston - Carlisle via Barrow-in-Furness. 22/01/2018
Several locomotives were on Carlisle Kingmoor which could have turned up for the train but ultimately I was very pleased to see 37402- the one I had been hoping for- on the rear of the train as it growled into the station. I had first seen 37402 back in 2005 when it was stored at Bescot- A loco I had missed and never expected to see running again. When 37402 returned to service with DRS in 2013 it was certainly a pleasant surprise- yet it had eluded me on passenger workings since (I really should have come to Cumbria more!) and was now considered a very threatened loco with high engine hours. The 'large logo' 37 did not disappoint taking me the 156 miles to Preston via the coast- sadly all in darkness at this time of year. If not for the scenery watching the various flows of commuters proved interesting - workers for Sellafield, school traffic for Barrow and then Ulverston and finally workers heading into Preston. The 05:15 from Carlisle is a heavily loaded train for many sections of it's journey!
37401 crosses Harrington Viaduct working the 11:40 Barrow - Carlisle. 22/01/18
The other locomotive out on the coast was 37401 which had berthed at Barrow-in-Furness overnight. The result was a great pairing of the first two class 37/4's working together in BR Large Logo blue in 2018!
Things are soon due to change with class 68's expected to take over one of the diagrams from late January. 37's are likely to continue in some form for a few more months but issues with reliability of both the locos and the Mk2 DBSO's have caused poor performance on the route and alternative options are therefore being explored. Once again I am reminded that this is a beautiful line and I really must make the effort to get back here once the weather improves!

Friday, 19 January 2018

Picture of the week - 18 January 2018

I am a great believer that often if you wait long enough an interesting train will often come to you rather than you having to chase it. Of course it isn't always true, but certainly was the case for my first encounter with Colas Rail's class 67's which are used on test duties. The locos made a rare appearance on the Southern Region in place of the more usual class 73's and happened to find my camera just at the right time passing Basingstoke on 17th January.

If you've noticed it has been a bit quiet here... well- you would be right. I've been moving into a new flat which has diverted a lot of my time away from railways temporarily. Hopefully posts should return to normal levels soon- but not before another trip overseas where I will once again bring back something a little different to report.

Monday, 1 January 2018

DB SBB RhB Trip Report 7-12 December 2017

Thursday 7th December:
001 180-9 at Munich Ost having worked the final 'Nicholasfart' special of the day. The sunshine didn't last!
Flew Heathrow - Munich with Lufthansa taking the very long way to Heathrow Airport via Paddington as the local airport bus timetable has been changed enough to make it next to useless for me to reach the airport for any morning flights. Arrival at Munich was only slightly delayed but escaping from the Flughaven took much longer than I had hoped (it's massive!). After waiting nearly the full 15 minutes I was on an S-Bahn to meet my friends who had already arrived from Manchester at Munich Hbf.
Would you like a Vectron? TX Logistics 193553 leads three
classmates through Munich Ost with a 'piggyback' train.
The first surprise of the trip was from the S-Bahn window shortly before Johanneskirchen where a steam loco was briefly sighted in steam and looking as though it was ready to turn onto the S-Bahn line. A quick look at Google Maps and a few calls to my friends (who very much like their steam) and a plan was hatched to meet at Munich Ost and chase the train. An educated guess was made that it would probably pass through Munich Ost and upon my arrival there I found another enthusiast. 'Do you speak English' 'No'- so I try anyway, to no avail. The others arrive and a few more shouts of 'Dampflok' appears to explain our pursuit, and confirms that the other spotter is waiting for the steam also. Duly it appears in the sun soaked platform and we get some worthwhile shots. It is also ascertained that a series of Santa Specials (or 'Nicholasfart'- a term we all found very amusing) are being run by the Eisenbahn Museum Beirichts across the weekend. 001-180-9 which we had seen this afternoon would be empties back to the depot now but would be back for more work in eh coming days. Something to remember for later in the trip.
A bonus Rabbit! DB Netz 218 477 passes with a test train.
Pleased with the haul it is time to get some late lunch, check in at our Hotel (taking OBB 1116 087 across from Ost to Hbf) in the process and even visit the model shop on platform 11 before looking for our first rabbits of the trip. My target was to finally get a ride to Muhldorf with a 218 and the best option is to take the first evening train the 17:05 which produced winning locos 218465 and 218428. Just before departure there was time to check that nothing too mega had dropped onto the 17:10 vice turn to Kaufstein- Vectron X4E 664 had the honours. The Muhldorf train was taken as far as Ampfing where I realised a cunning plan to drop back onto the 17:21 Munich - Simbach with 218423 and 218452. This allowed a connection into the 18:42 Muhldorf - Munich with far less interesng but never the less required 245009, this being the last loco hauled departure back to Munich from Muhldorf.
218 465 prepares for departure with the 17:05 Munich Hbf - Muhldorf.

Back at the Hbf it was very clear that the old 115 locos were no longer working the sleeper ECS, OBB having found it's own locos to use instead on the NightJet. As for us it was time to retire to dinner, a great meal and atmosphere as ever at the Augustiner Brauhaus. Here a fun game of 'smuggle as many beer mats as we can into James' pockets' began. I guess it was my own fault for saying that I already had one and therefore really didn't need anymore. Coming home with a stack of beer mats was to become a recurring theme.

Friday 8th December:
Snow is falling heavily as 218 466 approaches Seeg on the Fussen branch with the 11:52 Munich Hbf - Fussen.

Locomotion 193 771 on the blocks at Munich Hbf having worked in on the
06:29 from Kaufstein on the Meridian vice turn.

It was an early start for our one chance to cover the Kaufstein morning vice turn. Fortunately despite quite a few beers and a late night all were out of the hotel present and correct to head over to Munich Ost (even if the other two didn't really get why we were doing it). No heritage electric which would have been the best outcome- but we did score a very shiny 193771. Almost light by our arrival at Hbf (this train really is pretty nocturnal in December) and time to find a fill in before heading down the Fussen branch. 111 183 took us to Reichurtshausen for 111 057 back with a quick spin on the Treuchtlingen turns.
111 183 at Munich Hbf with the 08:22 to Treuchtlingen.
A far cry from the beautiful sunshine of the day before the weather had turned quite unpleasant- cold and wet with very little daylight- by the time we reached Buchloe with 218 414 on the 09:52 to Fussen the precipitation was falling as snow and by Fussen there was a reasonable amount of it in places. The train was very busy with tourists including a couple of American ladies who didn't seem too hot at standing up on a moving vehicle- A lot of Americans just don't get trains!).
In heavy snow 218 420 approaches Weizern-Hopferau with the
11:52 Munich - Fussen.
By diagram the next two trains on the branch should also have been rabbits and they were in the form of 218 420 and 218 446. I had hoped to visit Neuschwanstein castle in the afternoon but my friends were 'absolutely not' interested- and the weather was not really the best for it either. Instead we whiled away our time in the pretty town of Fussen exploring the castle, the Christmas Market and several beerhouses (acquiring several beer mats that I 'didn't need' on the way). Following the earlier flurry of Rabbits on the line the next departure from Fussen wasn't until 18:06- we left the beerhouse in plenty of time for this and were rewarded with 218 415 to Munich.
Tried to eat/drink in the Hof Brauhause in town but after 10 minutes of wandering around aimlessly looking for a table we gave up, instead landing in the Augustiner place over the road where we very fortunately found a table just being vacated. Dinner ended up being a (very nice) kebab wrap!

Saturday 9th December:
EC195 13:09 Zurich - Munich is powered through a snowy Hergatz by 218 419 and 218 422. Note that SBB panoramic coaches have now appeared in the consist of Munich - Zurich trains, displaced from the Gotthard route.

Today's target- more Rabbits, though after the success of the previous two days it was about time things got a little more complicated.

A snow encrusted Alex 223 072 at Lindau.
It was another cold and earlyish start for the 07:14 EuroCity to Zurich which produced required pair 218 421 and 218 433. After a quick snowy photo stop at Buchloe we met another enthusiast, Michael, who would travel with us as far as Kempten (heading towards Oberstdorf) while we would continue with the pair right through to Lindau to pick up the Ulm-Lindau axis.

245 036 works the 10:05 Lindau - Stuttgart (to Ulm).

There had been a lot of snow on parts of the Allgaubahn and we were keen to get photographing, particularly as the sun had made an appearance on the southern part of the line. We were a few minutes late into Lindau (421 383 taking the EC on to Zurich) through no entirely descernable reason- and so was everything else. This did at least mean we made the connection onto the 10:05 towards Stuttgart as it had not yet arrived. When it did it was 245 036 at the helm which was a little disappointing.

218 409 pauses at Langenargen on it's way to Lindau.

We took the 245 through to Ravensburg, the snow diminishing the further along the route we got. Unfortunately the next train back to Lindau eventually turned up around 20 minutes late due to signalling problems. Back at Freidrichshafen while 218 436 was running round on the delayed 11:05 Linda - Stuttgart (presumably a failed DVT) our train with 218 427 was terminated. All passengers forward on a single coach class 650 DMU through to Lindau! It was a little busy! Fortunately a new move was quickly planned, to photograph 218 495 and 218 343 at Langenargen on the OBB EuroCity before then taking 218 409 on to Lindau on the next train from Stuttgart.

Sunshine and snow! 218 495 leads 218 343 towards Langenargen with IC118 08:54 Innsbruck- Munster. 

Dispolok liveried ER20-007 departs from Hergatz with a Lindau bound Alex.
Back at Lindau I was surprised to see OBB 1144 250 in the stabling point as I have not seen this class here before. In search of some proper snow Alex 223 069 was taken back onto the Allgaubahn to Hergatz with plenty of time to seek out a snowy location for the next southbound EuroCity from Munich. DB however had other ideas- while we had walked out onto the single line towards Memmingen the train simply did not appear. Only when one of our group decided to look up the trains progress online did we realise to our horror that it was no longer calling at Memmingen, made an additional stop at Kempten and had therefore already passed us on the other route! We weren't very impressed. A few other photos were managed at Hergatz- but not what we were really looking for.
223 068 arrives at Hergatz to take us back to Munich.
All in all we were fairly pleased when 223 068 arrived to save us and take us back to Munich. I still quite enjoy the 223's and the Alex stock is good fun with a compartment to ourselves most of the way to Munich. A slight further delay was encountered at Immenstadt attaching the portion from Oberstdorf (which was worked in by another 223)- possibly explained by more than 1ft of snow.
I can't remember where we had dinner- but it was a beer house and it was good!

Sunday 10th December:
50-0072-4 powers towards Munich Heimerenplatz with its circular excursion.
Following our unexpected encounter with the Dampflok on Thursday there was an obvious plan for today- have a ride on the 'Nicholasfart' around Munich which I believe cost the princely sum of 16 euros (though nobody ever came around to charge us). The train arrived into Munich Ost with both locos and a double set of stock ready to split and for two trains to head around Munich, 001-180-9 was to head anti-clockwise, while 50-0072-4 lead the other set of stock clockwise. Shortly before departure from Munich Ost with 50-0072-4 there was the surprise arrival of 115 509 in some sort of racing livery on a set of IC coaches- no idea what it was doing!
115 509 at Munich Ost.

Having done the loop around Munich in around 40 minutes, including the spectacle of passing the other steam train 3/4 of the way around we then headed to Heimerenplatz to photograph the next pass of the steam. A few freights were also seen before it was time for me to split from our group, the others of whom were flying home that afternoon. My own move was to head to Munich Hbf for the 12:33 EuroCity to Zurich. I had worked out that this would be the other pair of weekend EC Rabbits to those taken the previous day- This produced required 218 422 and 218 419 as expected.

218 422 and 218 419 at a snowy Buchloe with the 12:33 Zurich - Munich EC

Snow was falling again by Buchloe and again I was joined by Michael who was taking the train down to Lindau. I wasn't sure if I was going to continue straight through to Munich or go for another go on the Ulm-Lindau axis. The decision was simple- it was raining, the weather was cold and horrid and the next train to Stuttgart was delayed. 421 394 therefor took me into an increasingly slushy Switzerland. My hostel in the outskirts of Zurich was nice enough- I cannot say the same for the walk into the city which turned out to be much longer than I had thought, and also much wetter. By the time I reached the city I was pretty frozen and soaked right through, and not really any much clearer where I was going to find dinner. Eventually settled on a Pizza restaurant within Zurich Hbf which served up a decent dinner. I was pleased to get back to the hostel, warm up and get to bed.

Monday 11th December:
Ge4/4ii 613 at Davos Platz waiting for it's next journey on to Filisur.

Ge4/4ii 615 at Chur- base level of the RhB.

Fortunately my clothes and shoes had dried out overnight and I made my way down to Zurich Hbf for 460 104 on the 09:37 to Chur. This trip was really intended just to be a reckie of the RhB and it took me a little while to get my bearings (and find some lunch) at Chur. If it helps anyone eles- don't go into town looking for lunch- go to the station Subway. I didn't find this until much later. The weather was once again pretty horrific with rain falling heavily even at altitude. I missed a couple of RhB services and then got distracted when Re4/4 11151 arrived on an old push/pull set. This turned out to be vice ICE. Another similar set (!) appeared for the next departure a regional service with 11136. I took this to Landquarts on the 12:16 Chur - Zurich loosing even more time on the RhB in the process. 11151 was to follow on the 12:39 'ICE' departure for Hamburg.
Ge4/4iii 650 is bound for St Moritz at Filisur.

With half the day gone already I finally got onto the RhB taking Ge4/4ii from Landquarts to Davos, and then after a wait on to Filisur. There was a bit more snow at this altitude but still it was raining heavily and was quite miserable. The plan (there wasn't really a pre-planned plan) was to drop my luggage at my hotel at Filisur at this point and check that the restaurant would be open in the evening- however because of the connections at Filisur that would have put me back an hour and I had already wasted quite enough time- so onwards I went with Ge4/4iii 650 to Samedan on a St Moritz service.

Snow at Pontresina. Abe4/4iii waits for the 16:01 to St Moritz

Passing through the Albulatunnel finally came a change in the weather, from rain to snow. It made photography even more challenging but at least a little more interesting. Continuing to avoid units my next move was to take Re4/4ii 630 to Pontresina. Finally locos gave way to an Allegra railcar (though still hauling some traditional coaches which I chose to take and a wagon of logs) for my final leg from Pontresina to Alp Grum - having reached the highest point on the line and with darkness definitely now descended it was time to re-trace my steps to Filisur. Conditions up at Alp Grum were certainly interesting, several feet of snow and pretty much a blizzard- the solid station building definitely providing a welcome refuge. The on train announcements describing the view did seem somewhat superfluous. Re-tracing my steps back to Filisur was behind another Allegra unit attached to an Alvra trailer unit to Pontresina, Ge4/4ii 627 then took me forward to Samedan for Ge4/4iii 652 back to Filisur.

Snow is still falling at altitude- Allegra EMU 3505 pauses at Pontresina.
Fairly soaked (it was still raining heavily rather than snowing in Filisur) and in the dark I did eventually find my hotel- only to find the door locked. Eventually after a bit of knocking and trying the phone number on the door several times I was let in. Clearly the hotel was not busy as I was upgraded to a room with an en-suite bathroom- I also took the time to check that the restaurant was open. Having walked past I secretly already knew the answer- it wasn't. And nowhere else was either. I think I may not have sounded entirely grateful when I was offered a pot noodle and a kettle and told once again that nowhere else was open. Unperturbed I deposited my gear and went for a final soaking just to prove that nowhere else was open. It really wasn't. I supplemented my pot noodle with a drink, cake and biscuit from the station vending machine. Not really the end to the day and the last meal in Switzerland that I had been hoping for!

Tuesday 12th December:
Ge4/4ii 615 heads towards Reichenau with a train from the Disentis line.

Ge4/4iii pauses at Davos Frauenkirch with a train to Filisur.
The weather forecast on my phone had been correct and at some point overnight the rain had turned to snow and I woke up to the sound of the roads being ploughed. Snow was not falling when I awoke but that wasn't the end to the weather problems. I had an hour or so to burn before the Coop opened and I could get some breakfast so I took the train to Davos with traction provided by one of the railmotor vehicles. As we climbed the fog which surrounded Filisur lifted and the weather actually looked like it might have been Ok- a few patches of blue at this altitude. I photographed and rode the next train back to Filisur for breakfast behind Ge4/4iii 649.

Ge4/4ii 611 approaches Reichenau with a Glacier Express.

The plan after breakfast was to walk to the Landwasser viaduct, but visibility had further reduced and frankly efforts would have been futile. Instead I gathered my things and made my way down towards Chur on the line I had yet to cover hoping I could find some attractive spots in the snow to get some photographs. My train was an Allegra/Alvra set again and ultimately was taken all the way to Reichenau-Tamins where the weather was better and there should be more trains (I was very conscious of my flight back home from Basel at 17:00).

Ge6/6ii takes the line towards Thusis near to Reichenau

I found a spot that was reasonable and photographed a couple of trains, including freights lead by Ge6/6ii's 703 and 704. In waiting for a shot of a train of the Disentis line I ended up with a run of almost epic proportions to make my train back to Chur for the onward connection I planned to make - the 12:39 ICE (incase it was a scratch set again). I did make my connection- just and also had time to cover the RhB between Chur and Landquarts to pick up my mainline train from there. Doing the honours was Ge4/4ii 615 on a Klosters service.
Sun in Switzerland finally- Re2/2ii's 11304 and 11156 at Basel

Of course the ICE was actually an ICE today but did give the chance to bail off at Zurich for an alternative loco-hauled service on to Basel, this turned out conveniently to be the 14:08 from St Gallen to Basel which was already in the station and was worked by Re4/4ii's 11304 and 11156 in tandem. The sun had finally come out by Basel so I did manage just one sunny picture of the Re4/4ii's detaching from the train! Off to the airport for a painless return to Luton with EasyJet.

218 419 and 218 422 kick up snow and show off their rabbit ears approaching
Hergatz with a Zurich - Munich EuroCity.
Rail trips in December are always going to be risky- especially if you are coming for photography! Two of my main aims in Germany were to cover the lines to both Muhldorf and Fussen with 218's as I had failed to do so previously. This was achieved and a good number of winners were had as well. Of course Munich is a good city to spend Christmas evenings in with beerhouses and the Christmas markets. We weren't really expecting to see snow here so that was a bonus- though some brighter skies would of course have been lovely. I still intend to come back to this area- most likely in the summer and with a car as there are plenty of great spots on the Allgaubahn as well as the Fussen and Oberstdorf branches.

Snow is around 2ft deep at Immenstadt wih Alex 223 063.

This was my first visit to the RhB and what a fantastic railway it is. I feel I have got a feel for how the network works now while my stock of photos lacks behind somewhat due to the weather I experienced. I know I will be back on the Rhatiche Bahn before too long- especially with a substantial EMU order currently being built which will inevitably eradicate a lot of the more interesting loco hauled trains.
Travel was on FIP coupons throughout and no problems were encountered.
Cloud is closing in on Filisur as a St Moritz - Chur train appears on the hillside.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Autumn RHTT's

73201 Broadlands approaches Kingswood on the Tattenham Corner branch in Surrey on 17th November 2017 with the 3W91 RHTT based out of Tonbridge Yard and operated by GBRf. The train visits several commuter railways which do not see loco hauled traffic.
MPV's while less interesting that the loco hauled operation cover the RHTT
operation in many parts of the country. A Sussex based unit is seen at
Clapham Junction on 24th October 2017 waiting clearance from the
West London Line onto the Brighton Main Line.
In early December the last of the Autumn Rail Head Treatment Trains ran on the network for 2017. These trains provide interest annually covering a variety of lines which may not regularly see loco-hauled traction for the majority of the year. Trains are supplied by all of the major freight companies which also brings a wide selection of traction which this year has included class 20, 37, 56, 57, 66, 67 and 73. The trains jet the rails with water at high pressure to remove a build up of leaf mulch which affects both adhesion of trains and can also interfere with detection of trains by track circuits. As well as loco-hauled RHTT sets Network Rail also use their Multi Purpose Vehicles for many circuits which undertake jetting and can also apply an adhesion modifier to the rails in the form of Sandite paste.

66723 'Chinook' leads 66710 through Camden Road while jetting with the 3W81 circuit from Broxbourne. It doesn't take long for these trains to build up a thick layer of dirt associated with the water jetting. 29.11.2017

20303 and 20305 have been the regular traction for the DRS operated South Yorkshire RHTT during 2017 with 20312 providing backup. Class 20's have been used on these workings once again due to weight restrictions, the DRS fleet now seeing very limited use aside from these duties. Once again 2017 has been mooted as the last year for the DRS class 20's on RHTT duties- only time will tell! 20303 'Max Joule 1958-1999' (re-named from 20301) and 20305 approach Brough with the 3S14 circuit from Sheffield to Hull on 18th November.
73128 'OVS Bullied' stands at the usually EMU only branch terminus of Tattenham Corner ready to continue the 3W91 circuit back towards Tonbridge on 17th November

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Barrington 47's

Opportunities to see class 47's on 'proper' freight trains in 2017 are few and far between- it is therefore no surprise that photographers have been out in force recently as GBRf have been using a pair of class 47's on spoil trains between Wembley and Barrington. The trains convey spoil from London which is deposited at the former Barrington Quarry site near Foxton where it is being used to restore the former chalk pits. Rail Operations Group have been contracted to supply traction to the train while there is reduced capacity in the GBRf fleet, however the heritage traction should only be a temporary measure. On 29th November 2017 47815 and 47848 pass Camden Road with the empty train, 6T02, heading back to Wembley. Class 56's have also appeared on recent workings to/from Barrington.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

What a drag- ECML diversions

1A45 the 17:45 Leeds - Kings Cross arrives into Peterbrough behind 67010 which has dragged the service from Newark Northgate via Lincoln and Spalding due to engineering works in the Grahtham area on the ECML. 18/11/2017

67003 backs on to 91131 to drag the 08:48 Kings Cross - Leeds
via Spalding and Lincoln to reach Newark Northgate.
The East Coast Inter City franchise has long established the value in running through trains during times of engineering works. While journey times can be significantly extended when the usual 'direct' ECML route is closed it is still far preferable to have passengers on one train rather than having to de-camp and change onto a rail replacement bus only to have to repeat this process at the other end of the journey. During November a series of works in the Grantham area have once again necessitated Virgin Trains East Coast to divert services away from the ECML between Peterbrough and Newark/Doncaster. Most services are in the hands of HST's which leave the main route at Peterbrough and travel by way of Spalding and Lincoln. Trains which serve Newark Northgate then diverge to the left while those continuing on the more direct route north continue through Gainsbrough Lea Road to re-join the ECML at Doncaster. The diversions cause the HST fleet to be worked particularly intensively and inevitably there are not quite enough sets to go around- VTEC therefore turns to the loco-hauled option with several trains each day booked for Intercity 225 sets (Class 91 with Mk4 coaches) which are then dragged by a DB Cargo class 67 over the non-electrified routes.

67022 prepares to drag 1E21 15:30 Edinburgh - Kings Cross away from
Doncaster. This longer divert would travel by way of Gainsbrough, Lincoln
and Spalding to re-join the ECML at Peterbrough. 18/11/2017
I sampled the diversions on Saturday 18th November where three class 67's were in use, 67003, 67010 and 67022. I travelled on 1D09 the 08:48 Kings Cross - Leeds (to Doncaster) which was dragged by 67003 between Peterbrough and Newark (via Lincoln) and returned on 1E21 the 15:30 Edinburgh - Kings Cross (from Doncaster) which was dragged over the longer route from Doncaster to Peterbrough (via Gainsbrough and Lincoln) by 67022. Journey times were extended both by the diversions and also the time allowed to attach and detach the loco at each end of the drag (around 15 minutes on each occasion)- however the willingness to provide a through service should be commended, and the chance to enjoy some fairly unusual loco haulage is also something for the enthusiast to savour. Aside from the VTEC diversions Hull Trains and Grand Central were also diverting their services via Lincoln using their usual class 180 DMU's.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Comment - Strike woes continue

Northern is one of the companies which has now joined the RMT conductors
strike. 142025 is seen near Brough with a Hull - York service in November
2016- a train currently operated with a driver and conductor.
Until I scrolled back through my archive to write this post I had not quite appreciated that it was as long ago as July 2016 the I wrote about the continuing strikes on Southern which had led to the implementation of an emergency timetable to cope with traincrew shortages. Since then the industrial dispute between the RMT, ASLEF, the train operators and ultimately the government has developed. Several other companies have joined the Southern employees in industrial action with Abellio Greater Anglia, Merseyrail, Northern and South Western Railway now all engaged in coordinated strikes through the RMT union. The reasons for the action have not changed- a threat to the safety critical position of train guards who currently operate train doors, an extension of DOO (Driver Only Operation) and a threat that the guarantee of a second member of staff on many trains may be eroded.

The latest company to be added to the ever expanding portfolio of RMT industrial action is First/MRT owned South Western Railway which took over the running of services from Waterloo from the Stagecoach South West Trains franchise in August. SWT was one of of the last operators to run all services, including inner suburban routes with a guard and many see it as unsurprising that SWR are considering changes. A new fleet of Bombadier 'Aventra' trains will enter service on the network from 2020 and SWR officials have stated that a decision has not yet been made on the method of operation of these trains. While there is no immediate threat to the role of the guard on SWR the company has failed to put in place an assurance that a second member of staff will be retained in all circumtances stating simply that any changes to current practices would be consulted in the usual way.

While the strike on SWR will bring disruption to passengers out of Waterloo this week there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel for the long suffering users of the Southern network with news that a deal has finally been accepted by ASLEF drivers bringing an end to their dispute. A generous pay deal will see Southern drivers accept an increase in DOO services with an assurance that a second member of staff, the 'On Board Supervisor' will always be provided on trains except in exceptional circumstances. Exceptional circumstances would appear to include late notice sickness - a position the RMT, representing the guards is still unhappy with and continues to dispute with Southern. It is however the drivers strike here which has been most disruptive and an end to which will be welcomed by passengers.

Another train operator involved in the current strikes is Abellio Greater
Anglia, which already runs 60% of services DOO. The operator expects to
run a full service using contingency guards.
Strikes undoubtedly have their place in the industry but the disturbance they cause must not be forgotten. Not only do passengers suffer but general morale within the workplace is stretched. Those staff who are still working, many of whom are not involved in the strike are placed under strain and an air of unease and tension can easily descend across the industry. The company which I work for has now been brought into the dispute and I am beginning to see first hand the intricacies that strikes bring to an industry from behind the scenes. The extra workload for staff, the tension from the public, the strain on relationships and the balance between obligation and duty. For example the many company managers who have no choice but to break the strike by forfilling their obligation as contingency guards while their friends and colleagues man picket lines.

My role is is not directly involved in the current strike, but how do I feel about operating the railway when my colleagues are striking? On one hand I hope that our contingency service provision runs well in the interests of our passengers and all who are working hard today to keep trains moving safely, reliably and without incident. But then there is the other side that maybe 'secretly' hopes that it will all go wrong. There could be incidents involving our contingency guards, service levels may fall below what we expect and passenger journeys may be disrupted beyond the provision set out in the emergency timetables - the impacts of the strike would be felt stronger and enhance the case which RMT guards are presenting.

One thing is certain - as I have said before, parties need to talk. As an industry we need to innovate, but we do not need to innovate purely for the sake of change. The number one priority of the rail industry must always be safety and in my view a second member of safety trained staff on board every train can only be positive in this respect. Are trains with DOO safe? Yes. Of course they are. Would they be safer with an additional member of staff who can assist passengers and is safety trained in the event of an emergency- undoubtedly. This week Londons Evening Standard newspaper totally missed the point when they their story 'On the day before rail strike over driver-only trains, RMT boss Mick Lynch travels to work... on driver-only train' featuring a picture of the RMT assistant general secretary travelling to work by train and chastising the leader for his hypocritical actions. The suggestion presumably is that it would be more acceptable for Mick Lynch to drive to work, take a helicopter or simply not travel at all rather than using the mode of transport for which his union has worked for many years to keep safe. Mick Lynch has rebuffed the comments stating that 'by holding a strike we're trying to increase safety standards on the railway. They [DOO trains] are less safe than a train with a guard'. There is no suggestion that DOO trains are not fit for use, or that it is a risk for passengers to use them. Rail remains the safest way to travel- but why not make sure it is the very safest it can be?

Now it is time to get back around the table again and find the solution to running our railway in the safest possible way with adequate staffing for the good of everyone and at a realistic cost. And let's hope that I'm not writing another of these comments in 12 months time...

All views expressed are my own and do not represent the views of my employer.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Astra IVA's on Bucharest M4

There is something quite magical about dilapidation. One of the best places to find this across the world can be subway systems. Even in modern prosperous cities there can be corners that seem to be forgotten about. The New York Subway is almost famous for it- beneath the metropolis you can still find gems such as Canal Street station which time, and repair seems to have forgotten.
On a recent trip to Romainia (September 2017) I discovered that the subway systems has some beautiful brutallist soviet station buildings, but in the large part very modern, clean and well looked after trains built in recent years by CAF and Bombadier- there was however one exception, Metro line 4 which time really seems to have forgotten and which soldiers on, for now, with native Astra built IVA stock constructed in Arad.

A total of 508 cars of IVA stock were built by Astra for the Bucharest metro between 1976 and 1992. Only a small number now remain in service on the short Line 4 from Gara de Nord to Straulesti and will be replaced when the signalling system is finally upgraded. Late in the evening there is certainly an eery and somewhat forgotten feel to this line. The trains are not regular, there are few people around and the stock is plastered from head to tail in graffiti. Next to marble clad columns and bright plastic chairs the IVA's slowly wind down their last few years in service almost totally ignored by the city above.